The Elephant in the Room

Robin van Persie is not a (insert your expletive of choice here).

He is, as have been quite a few before him, a mirror held up to Arsenal Football the way we do business, to the way this club is operated and to what our true ambitions are. The vitriol flung his way like feces from a primate's hand from all corners of the Red and White realm is simply a reaction to how little we collectively seem to enjoy what the reflection shows.

Robin, Robin on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?

Let's not skirt the issue. The belief that this decision is only about pounds and pence belies a serious lack of pattern-recognition ability on the part of the holder. Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Adebayor, Ashley Cole, Thierry Henry, Mathieu Flamini, Patrick Vieira, Kolo Toure, Samir Nasri - these are men of vastly-differing abilities and likeability. But, take a step back. Look at the sheer size of that list! You can say that one left for this reason, and this guy for another reason, but the totality paints a a picture of a sort of crazed denial among many who support our club.

You can't look at that list and say that nothing is wrong. You just bloody can't.

I have, on two occasions, written long-form posts here stating the hypothesis that Arsene Wenger was the problem. I officially no longer believe that to be the case...not to nearly the extent as I surmised back then, anyway. I have, on many more occasions, said or sung rude things about quite a few of the players in the above list. That, I stand behind to my dying breath.

But, each player on that list served as a valuable lesson in how not to run a football club. Each, in turn, was summarily ignored. Again, whatever you think of their relative abilities or worth as a human being, barely a season goes by where someone considered at the the time to be one of the top players at the club has left at the first opportunity presented to them.

Every single time, a significant proportion of our tribe has responded with the equivalent of: "Ehhh, she wasn't that hot anyway." It's just as stupid here as it is when you justify a break-up to yourself that way. Every player on that list either still would moonwalk into our first team with their eyes closed, or would have up until they entered their footballing dotage. Meanwhile, the only way Andre Santos, Gervinho, Andrei Arshavin, Kieran Gibbs, Alex Song, Theo Walcott, or Aaron Ramsey would get into either Manchester team would be a heaping plate of London Marriott lasagne.

Another maddeningly-inane meme making the rounds is the idea that RVP somehow owes us something for keeping him around as he battled injury and personal problems. Regarding the former, Arsenal players who have hemorrhaged man-games due to assorted knocks is hardly an exclusive club. Somehow, I get the feeling that if Abou Diaby announced he was not re-signing with the club, there would be quite less of this nonsense floating around the intertubes. Again, I come back to the idea that we as a fanbase are recoiling at our reflection, at what this means for our club.

Furthermore, he is literally the only reason (with a cheeky tip of the cap to Martin Fulop) why Arsenal qualified for the Champions League. That extra 30-40 million or so on top of whatever fee we get for him more than settles that account in my book. 

The third popular display of misguided anger is the ever-present nostalgic look back at when players just loved their clubs so much, goshdarnit! When Arsenal players really were Gunners! When they would die for the shirt and all that, innit.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this is and always has been utter fantasy...yet another insanity that continues to perpetuate despite universes of evidence piled up to the contrary. Put your faith in a professional athlete, and you will never fail to be disappointed someday. They are employees of a company, who have as much right to make the most money they can in the best environment that they can. I have been at my company for 8 years. I love the people I work with, I like that I'm entrusted with major projects and they have developed in me every marketable skill that I possess. And yet, if someone offered me $20K more and a chance at Employee of the Year, I would leave without a second thought. So would you.

I do digress from my point about our sepia-toned memories, though. The rock-solid Arsenal through-and-through lads who would never abandon us. To wit, I quote from one of the sacred texts of Goonerdom, Fever Pitch:

For a year I had lived with the possibility of Liam Brady's transfer to another club in the same way that, in the late fifties and early sixties, American teenagers had lived with the possibility of the impending Apocalypse....I had never felt so intensely about an Arsenal player; for five years he was the focus of the team, and therefore the center of a very important part of myself...I worshiped him because he was great, and I worshiped him because, in the parlance, if you cut him he would bleed Arsenal (like Charlie George, he was a product of the youth team...

Sound familiar? Let's keep going.

Deep down, I think I still hoped that he would change his mind, or that the club would eventually become aware of the irreparable damage it would do to itself it if it allowed him to leave....What I knew most of all was that he didn't want to leave us all, that he was torn, that he loved us as much as we loved him and that one day he would come back.
And, here's the one that absolutely kills me:

After Brady had gone Arsenal tried out a string of midfield players, some of them competent, some not, all of them doomed by the fact that they weren't the person they were trying to replace: between 1980 and 1986 Talbot, Rix, Hollins, Price, Gatting, Peter Nicholas, Robson, Petrovic, Charlie Nicholas, Davis, Williams and even centre-forward Paul Mariner all played in central midfield.

That, friends, is what the reflection is showing us. Every season, one of our two or three most prodigious talents leaves us. Every season, they are replaced with a diminishing-returns simulacrum like Olivier Giroud or Lukas Podolski, and every season we become 90% of what we were. So far, the combination of us starting from the Invincibles and the fact that other sides have spectacularly failed to apply the coup de grace when their boots were on our throat has allowed us to remain in the Champions League places, which in turn has allowed the club to remain millimeters above the waves of mid-table obscurity.

You think that's not possible? Ask Liverpool sometime how easy it is to get your head back above the waterline once you've been pulled under.

At this point, anyone who claims to know the true architect of our failed team-building policy is deluding themselves. Pick your strawman - Wenger, the board, Alisher Usmanov, Darren Dein, it's all the same, really. Suffice to say that something is seriously amiss at the highest levels of our club - and until something drastic changes, this is who we are. 90% of what we were, and then 90% of that again.

Once, we were indeed the fairest of all...but we haven't been for seven seasons and counting. So many have tried to tell us, and so many have fallen on deaf ears. If we remain on this path, Jack Wilshere will be next. Or Thomas Vermaelen. Or Wojceich Szczesny. Or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Or all of them.

But, look on the bright side. Liam Brady did come back one day.